Continued from page 1

Allen said Tuesday that the U.S. troops will begin to move into the advisory role next year, stepping back from their current counterinsurgency mission with Afghan forces. Over time, U.S. and NATO forces would provide training and guidance, air support, and other assistance as the Afghan troops take the lead.

In the east, where insurgents launch attacks against troops from sanctuaries in Pakistan, the battle is expected to grow fiercer.

Allen said he expects the U.S. will be conducting significant counterinsurgency operations in the east in the next year. The commander, however, would not provide details on the expected troop withdrawals, or any plans for strategy changes as the year goes on.

The battlefield decisions also are complicated by the budget showdown in Washington. The Pentagon could face as much as $1 trillion in automatic cuts over the next 10 years if lawmakers can’t reach a broader agreement on government spending.

This week, Congress was working on legislation that would authorize $662 billion in defense spending for 2012, including day-to-day operations for the Pentagon as well money for the war. Trying to reflect a period of austerity and a winding down of decade-old conflicts, House and Senate negotiators agreed to $27 billion less than President Barack Obama wanted and $43 billion less than authorized for the 2011 budget year.

On his historic Libya trip, Panetta said the U.S. wants to help Libyans move in the right direction as the people take back their country. With U.S. and NATO military assistance, Libyans ousted and later killed longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi earlier this year.

Panetta’s plan to visit Libya comes amid ongoing violence there, including recent clashes between revolutionary fighters and national army troops near Tripoli’s airport.

Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.